As digital tools continue to become more pervasive in healthcare, it’s not just patient care that’s being affected, but countless other aspects, from the work environment itself to the skillsets required to carry out core functions. As a result, leading high-performing teams and developing talent requires a different approach than in the past — one that needs to be adopted quickly to keep organizations moving forward.
“What got us here will not get us to the next milestone,” said Nitha Puthran, SVP, Cloud Infrastructure & Security at Persistent Systems, during a recent panel discussion. “We need to think about how we onboard employees today versus how we did it before Covid.”
But it goes beyond onboarding; thriving in the digital world requires building and maintaining a strong and diverse team, according to the panel, which also included Naomi Lenane (CIO and VP of Information Services, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and Kristin Myers (EVP and Chief Digital & Information Officer, Mount Sinai Health System). During the discussion, they shared insights on how Covid has changed the landscape, how leaders can pivot to better serve the needs of employees and patients, and the unique challenges still faced by women in technology roles.
Brave new world
Although it wreaked havoc on the health system in many ways, the pandemic did have a silver lining, according to Lenane. “It helped us adopt digital tools, which forced a more agile approach.” Part of that means remaining focused on constantly improving systems, as Dana-Farber has done with its CRM implementation. “It’s made a big impact in terms of showing how we’re bringing new patients into the organization,” she said.
At Mount Sinai, the focus has largely been on AI and automation, along with migrating to the cloud, which Myers believes will increase agility and scalability while enabling innovation. The team has developed a comprehensive roadmap focused on access, care navigation, and enhanced digital scheduling, among other key areas. “We came up with a robust change management plan and governance structure to ensure we’re making decisions based on the data,” she noted.
These changes, however, come with a ripple effect, particularly leveraging automation for repetitive and manual tasks, and freeing up staff to focus on more interesting tasks. “Technology is going to change the way we all work,” said Myers, adding that AI has the potential to “augment the capabilities we have” and enable new roles like cybersecurity analysts.
And although that’s encouraging, systemic barriers remain that can “hinder women’s progress and limit opportunities,” she said, adding that “the road to success is more challenging” in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry.
Leveling the field
Fortunately, there are steps that both female and male leaders can take to help level the playing field, according to the panelists, who shared best practices based on their own experiences.
- Build a pipeline. At a time when demands upon the healthcare IT workforce far outweigh the supply, establishing a pipeline is a critical piece, noted Myers. But it isn’t going to be simple; in fact, “it’s one of our biggest challenges,” she said. “Fewer females apply to technology roles, and an even lower percentage apply to infrastructure, cybersecurity, and data science roles. That’s where we need to focus.” Lenane agreed, noting that it isn’t enough merely to create a farm system — it needs to be carefully cultivated. “We need to keep the pipeline going so that they want the most technical of the technical jobs,” and don’t just lean toward areas like training, implementation, and workflow, while “leaving the technical stuff to others.” At Dana-Farber, her team seeks to accomplish that by visiting high schools and grammar schools.
- Set expectations. With every role should come a list of expectations and necessary skills, such as the ability to communicate and present to executives in layman’s terms. “We need to make sure these skillsets are across the board. You should expect the same from your technical teams as you do from your non-technical teams,” Lenane noted. Part of that also means setting the expectation that individuals participate fully during presentations and don’t rely on the rest of the team to do the talking. Myers agreed, adding, “It comes down to accountability and making sure people are doing what the job description has outlined.”
- Dirty your hands. For leaders, Puthran strongly advocates becoming familiar with all aspects of not just a particular role, but the entire department. “You can never challenge people until you’ve dirtied your hands,” she said. “It’s very important to drive the message that people can’t get to the top without having worked on the ground.” Along those lines, she also recommends cross-training to help individuals “understand and be able to contribute better” in their roles.
- Be a coach. More often than not, individuals who have their eye on a certain goal don’t necessarily have the tools to achieve it, according to Puthran. This is where leaders can act as coaches and ask, ‘what do you need to accomplish that goal?’ Whether it’s through one-on-one discussions or cloud sessions, she walks people through the process by talking about the type of training needed for a particular role, how rigorous it is, and the amount of time it requires. These interactions, even when brief, “have really benefited people,” she added.
Being “intentional” about remote work
Of all the ways in which Covid — and the subsequent drive toward digital transformation — has affected the workforce, perhaps none has been as significant as remote and hybrid work models. At Mount Sinai, around 25 percent of the IT staff is fully remote, with the rest having flexible schedules, which Myers believes has been an enormous satisfier.
For working parents, the ability to drop a child off at school or attend events held during the middle of the day can be a differentiator. “Those opportunities weren’t available when we were in the office five days a week,” she said. “We see it as a way to attract talent.”
However, it also requires “a different management style” that’s focused more on outcomes than seeing people in person. For some, navigating that shift has been challenging, which is why her organization is providing training around managing teams offsite. Part of that entails being “very intentional” about when team members are asked to come to the office; for example, inviting specific teams for all-day meetings or lunch-and-learn events. “People want to come into the office if there’s a specific purpose and they know they’re going to get value,” Myers said.
It’s also important not to underestimate the community aspect of getting together in person, according to Lenane, particularly for those who are fully or mostly remote. “We want to give people the opportunity to spend some of that time engaging socially.” But those interactions shouldn’t be limited to onsite events, she said.
At Dana Farber, leaders regularly hold meetings on Zoom and other platforms “that are purposefully social” and enable colleagues to communicate just as they would in person. In addition, “we’re giving the opportunity to still see and hear from leadership,” Lenane added. “It’s important to set aside time where people can pop in and say hello and meet new people who are being onboarded remotely.”
What’s essential is to be deliberate about keeping those who are remote in the fold and helping them to stay connected. “That’s really important as we move forward in this hybrid world.”
Myers concurred, noting that as digital takes on a more pivotal role in the overall strategy, leaders need to prioritize creating a culture of innovation and agility. “We have to encourage that at all levels and have open and transparent communication and collaboration.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Developing the Next-Generation of Women Healthcare IT Leaders & Driving Transformational Digital Change (Sponsored by Persistent System) — please click here.